Wild South, Hunting and Fly-Fishing in the Southern Hemisphere, by Peter Ryan
Fieldsports contributor Peter Ryan's first book, Wild South, Hunting and Fly-Fishing in the Southern Hemisphere, has created quite a stir – and for all the right reasons.
Ostensibly a collection of hunting and fishing tales covering Peter's extensive travels with rod, gun and gundog in the southern half of the planet – mainly in his homeland of New Zealand but also in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Southern Africa and South America – this book is much, much more than an anecdotal sporting diary or guide. Yes, it perfectly captures the thrill and excitement of the hunt, the pulling of the trigger and the landing of significant fish, and it certainly paints beautiful portraits of the places it takes you to, but it is in the little things, the detail, the nuance and sentiment that Peter truly excels.
For me, Wild South is really about relationships – the relationships and dynamics that exist between the hunter and his environment, his quarry and the company he keeps, dogs included. Indeed, Peter is arguably at his best when he writes about his canine companions: “The dogs search the horizon too because they're there for the same reason you are, and what's more, they understand that perfectly. Only those who work closely with a dog for a shared purpose – and there are few of them apart from hunting – know the rare moments of teamwork that bridge the gulf between us.” It is these relationships that tell us a lot about ourselves and why we choose to spend our time in faraway, wild places. Without trying to, this book will leave you pondering these things long after you've reached the final page.
Peter has that rare ability to capture and convey the essence and allure of our sports and what makes them meaningful – something that so many writers aspire to but, ultimately, fall short of achieving.
Without a hint of self-indulgence, he succinctly conveys the poignancy of an otherwise ordinary moment, reaffirming to his reader that it is so often the minutiae, the little things that make a fishing trip, a hunt or a day's shooting so memorable. The sights, the sounds, the smells and the way that these things, in combination, make you feel. “They talked about their kids, joked about their dogs and old friends who couldn't make it, or drank tea and fed biscuits to Lady, the muddy old Labrador. She was the first of many to teach me that a dog covered in cold dirty water will always come and stand next to you before shaking off.” This is a rare gift that comes from a combination of a deep understanding of our sports, his own place within them and an acute sense of observation and attention to detail.
I read a draft copy of Wild South a few months ago whilst on holiday in South Africa and was taken aback by the effect it had on me. It was the perfect safari companion, and the deep pangs of nostalgia that this book evoked – as I subconsciously drew parallels between Peter's accounts and my own – made me realise that this is no ordinary book. Admittedly, my Southern African roots, safari background and my love of New Zealand probably make me Peter's ideal target reader, but I honestly think the sentimentality this book stirred in me was a reflection of Peter's ability as a writer to strike the right chords at just the right moment – something he does, apparently, with great ease.
Any book that reignites one's own passion and love for the countryside and the outdoor pursuits we enjoy is worth reading and treasuring. I have already read this book twice and I will certainly read it again, probably more than once. I really can't recommend it highly enough.